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Behavioral modernity

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Behavioral modernity is a term used in anthropology and archeology to refer to an important milestone in the evolution of modern humans. It is a loosely defined list of traits that distinguish humans and their recent ancestors from both living primates and various fossil hominids. It is the point at which homo sapiens began to demonstrate its reliance on abstract thought and to express cultural creativity. As of 2004, many date its emergence to between 90,000 and 50,000 years ago, and place its origins in Africa (in opposition to earlier claims of its European origins).

Cultural universals are the key elements shared by all groups of people throughout the history of man. Examples of elements that may be considered cultural universals are language, religion, art, music, marriage, gender roles, the incest taboo, myth, cooking, games, and jokes. While some of these traits distinguish homo sapiens from other species in their degree of articulation in language based culture, they all have analogues in animal ethology. Since cultural universals are found in all cultures including some of the most isolated indigenous groups, scientists believe that these traits must have evolved or have been invented in Africa prior to the exodus.[1][2][3][4]

Classic evidence of behavioral modernity includes:

  • finely made stone and bone tools,
  • fishing
  • evidence of long-distance exchange or barter among groups,
  • game playing,
  • systematic use of pigment,
  • self-ornamentation,
  • burial, and
  • abstract carvings.

A more terse definition of the evidence is the behavioral B's: blades, beads, burials, bone toolmaking, and beautiful. [1]

The evolution into anatomically modern humans, particularly in brain anatomy, is mostly believed to be a precursor for behavioral modernity and is generally believed to predate it by tens of thousands of years.

It might be thought that BM preceded language but it is evident from the list above that they must have been at least contemporary developments.

See alsoEdit

footnotesEdit

  1. leap to language
  2. Buller, David (2005). Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature, 468, PMIT Press.
  3. 80,000-year-old Beads Shed Light on Early Culture
  4. three distinct human populations


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